Wednesday, October 9, 2013

INDIAN 101 FOR WRITERS - A Five Part Series

Alison DeLuca, purveyor of Fresh Pot of Tea, and Kara Stewart, part-time post pusher at Kara Stewart Art in Photography, have collaborated on a new five part traveling blog series! 

This series will take a look at writing about Native Americans and giving resources to accurately and respectfully do so.  

Alison DeLuca is the author of several YA steampunk books. She is committed to adding characters with different ethnic backgrounds to her works, and is always looking for authentic, realistic ways to do so.

Kara Stewart is Native (an enrolled member of the Sappony) and white, and is a full-time Literacy Coach in the public schools, as well as serves in several Indian organizations, with a passion for art, writing and Indian education. Her disclaimer for this series, “The views I express in this series are my personal views, brought about my own experiences and many years in literacy and education. I do not claim to represent the views of all Indians, but I do hope writers will find helpful resources and perspectives.”

Indian 101 for Writers. Part One: Know Thyself

Alison DeLuca: As a Native and an artist, what parts of your background influence your work?
Red Arrow Medallion
Kara Stewart: When I moved to North Carolina in 1998 and got more involved with my tribe, the Sappony, I began to be more aware of Indian issues such as health care, housing, tribal recognition, government and education and to learn more about my own tribe. I did this through my own research and talking with my tribe’s researchers and members. I also began to educate myself about my own racial identity and experiences, and how those have impacted my life. After all, we all have a racial identity that affects us, even those who haven’t thought of (or have had the luxury of not having to think of) themselves in relation to a specific racial background.
My education about Indian issues that impact many tribes across the nation, learning the history and current issues of my tribe, and my ever-growing awareness of my own racial identity continually shape my work by helping me express myself in a way that I hope is celebratory of the strengths of Indians and seeks to educate non-Indians, and is also culturally sensitive while avoiding stereotypes and offenses perpetuated by mainstream media and culture.
I think it is impossible to write to or about Indians in a culturally sensitive manner unless you have really put in the work and thought about race in America – and your place in that. The first step must be educating yourself about race in America, and then realizing that Natives are a current, thriving, contemporary race in this country made up of real people, not just the stereotypes and past that the media present. 

Some good starting places are:
28 Article – Faaabulous quick guide

I Don’t See Race – Myth #2 made me want to stand up and cheer. Deny my racial identity and you deny my experiences.

Another excellent article on Racial Color Blindness with a starting point at the end.

Even better racial identity model from CCODE Diversity Training that expands on Helm’s model by including people of color – scroll down to where it says “Unlike Helm’s model…” 

The best book on race I have ever read (starts slow but hang in there), Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

I’d recommend that every writer write her own racial autobiography or the story of her racial background and history. To write it, recall your earliest racial memories and events and record them. What was your first personal experience in dealing with race or racism, or being aware of race? Describe what happened. Was it something that happened at school? Within your family? Was it something someone said? If so, what? What was your reaction? What did you think, feel? Write these events, identifying some of the landmarks on your racial journey, and working your way up to describing your most recent events and conversations about race, race relations and/or racism that may have impacted your current perspectives of yourself and others and/or your experiences and your awareness of others’ experiences. This is a fluid document that you can reflect on and update many times as your racial consciousness evolves. Tim Wise’s White Like Me is one of the best racial autobiographies I’ve read, although there are many.

Some links for thinking about your racial autobiography:

Pacific Educational Group, who implements Beyond Diversity training nationally has a specific guide for creating racial autobiographies here.

Author Robert Wallace wrote an eloquent racial autobiography focused on one incident that impacted his racial identity in a recent Durham News article.

      Here is another example of a racial autobiography.

      Here is an amazing prezi-style racial autobiography centered around one main event and her resulting thoughts written by a student teacher (start with the block at the stems; the prezi is interactive and moves with your control.)

It took me a long time to write my own racial autobiography. But I am so glad I did. It was not only cathartic, but it gave me insight into my passions, my ‘hot buttons’, family dynamics, and a kind of chart to my inner soul. It helped me see with greater clarity how pieces of my history and my thoughts fit together, and helped me to give an openness to others’ racial histories and thus their thoughts, words and actions.

While our American history of over 300 years of slavery and subjugation of many groups has left the racial aftermath we deal with now, it’s important for writers to know that once you begin to unpack and demystify race and process your own racial history, you will find that you are able to write with a greater understanding of yourself, as well as greater consideration and accurate representation for many viewpoints and cultures. And that is ultimately the goal: to give equal consideration and accurate representation to all.


Johanna Garth said...

Great post. It made me think of a recent book (shall go unnamed) I read where the protagonist was an urban black guy and the author is a white hipster Berkeley guy. I kept looking from dialogue to the backflap and I could NEVER get myself to believe the character! Finally had to just put the book down.

Alison DeLuca said...

As sensitive as race is, it's really difficult to get ethnic characters right. However, I think it's worth the research and struggle involved to have a lovely mixed bag of personae, all representing different points of view as well as the shared human experience. Excellent point, Joanna!

Catherine Stine said...

It's good that you're doing a lot of research on this fascinating but sensitive theme. Hey, if anyone can pull it off, it'll be you!

Whittler said...

Great resources to support writers, educators, and others interested in trying to do this "right".

Trista Dominqu said...

Love that this is being a topic for discussion. My writing focuses on many of these issues and hope this blog will help strengthen my work